Dancing Through Briers: The College Experience and University Discipline

December 17, 2016 | Comments (0)

We have all reminisced during college reunions about the crazy nights we did crazy things. Surviving the chaos of college, graduating, and embarking on a successful career validate “youthful indiscretions” in some minds. No harm, no foul!

Maybe that works for the greatest or greying generations, but today’s students face greater scrutiny and potential consequences for behavior tolerated in the past. University disciplinary boards consider everything from drinking beer to sexual assault. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill prohibits “[e]ngaging in recklessly dangerous, disorderly or obscene conduct affecting University interests, students or other personnel,” to give you some idea of the breadth of the University’s disciplinary reach. (See The Instrument of Student Judicial Governance, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, II.C.1.g.)

The impact these policies and procedures have on the lives and futures of modern college students is a matter of degree. The more severe the allegation, the greater the disruption and potential impact to the student’s educational experience. But, even conduct traditionally considered a rite of passage can interrupt a student’s progress. I still remember the first student who told me he was kicked out of the dorm for smoking marijuana.

Many allegations carry collateral consequences. In one case last year, a client faced the university housing committee, a student disciplinary proceeding, a civil action, and a criminal prosecution; none of the allegations included violence, drugs, or fraud. That is exceptional, but various combinations of these collateral proceedings are increasingly common.

I offer a few considerations for students facing these proceedings.

  1. Seek counsel. I will talk to you for free, advise you about the process, and recommend whether you should handle the situation on your own or with the assistance of counsel.
  2. Delay responding to investigators or allegations. You can talk later, but you cannot take back what you say. So when confronted with an invitation to speak to a university representative, a student prosecutor, or a police officer, listen and keep quiet until you speak to counsel.
  3. Take the investigation seriously. You may be ordered to seek psychological or substance abuse counseling, kicked off campus pending an investigation, placed on probation, suspended, or expelled. Unless the university assures you otherwise, in writing, assume the investigation carries major consequences.

I have advised many students over the years. Some have endured life changing consequences. Many have been treated fairly. One lesson I have learned is to never underestimate the potential impact of a university disciplinary proceeding.

Amos Tyndall is a criminal trial lawyer who represents people accused of serious criminal offenses in state and federal courts throughout North Carolina. He has successfully defended people against a wide range of charges, including vehicular homicides, white collar offenses, and first-degree murder. Amos has been included in ©The Best Lawyers in America from 2013-17. Call (919) 967-0504.

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